October 28, 2004

Museums and sightseeing…

From reading several travel guides, one would think there is enough to see in Shanghai to fill 3 weeks in Shanghai alone. Well, it really isn’t that impressive. Unless you literally want to follow what the book tells you, you can see the most important stuff well in a week’s time and do some ordinary shopping as well.
Shanghai has a couple of museums, of which I have seen only one I must admit. The Shanghai Museum on People Square is quite good. They have a good collection of artefacts and they have it nicely attired. I believe they’ve done the place up a couple of years ago. Well, now it is definitely worth going. The price is fairly cheap, only 30 Yuan. However, if you want to get the most of it I suggest you get an audio guide, which costs about 60 Yuan I believe. The audio guide is needed, because despite their interesting collection and their nice layout, the artefacts do not have much of a description. They all have a sign that states: ‘this a vase’, or ‘this is a painting’. If you are lucky they display the era from which it descended. Very disappointing as it makes the museum a lot less interesting. In case you are wondering, it doesn’t help being able to read Chinese, as both Chinese and English are displayed.
If you want to see everything properly you really should spend 2 half- days, as it is indeed that extensive.
Having said that, the best collection you can probably find in Taipei, Taiwan. When Chiang Kai Shek and his followers were chased out of China, they brought along as much of the Chinese heritage as they could possibly carry, to prevent it from being smashed by the communists. The museum in Taipei is quite a bit bigger than the Shanghai museum, and I will certainly want to go there a second time. Especially since I have only seen about a third or so the last time I went there.

ancient wine vessel
ancient wine vessel, originally uploaded by ksporry.

buddha in large numbers
buddha in large numbers, originally uploaded by ksporry.

Hangzhou is a lot better! Hangzhou is fairly touristy and at the west lake in Hangzhou always attracts a lot of people. On one of the peninsulas has a nice little museum with some fairly interesting artefacts. Although the museum is not even nearly as big as the Shanghai museum and the artefacts are not always as interesting, it does have some interesting pointers. First of all, what definitely makes this museum better than the Shanghai museum, is the fact that they have displays everywhere! Each artefact has an explanation of what it is, where and when it is from, what it was used for, etc etc. And every so many displays they provide you with a little story about the further developments made in a particular era. Very interesting, and it is even in English! They also discuss some of the more recent history of China, like the rise of the communists, Chiang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang, the Japanese occupation, the cultural revolution, etc etc. definitely worth seeing. One drawback though, is that you can walk through the museum pretty quickly.
Having said that, There is so much to see in Hangzhou/west lake, that you won’t miss too much. Most of the buildings and sightseeing highlights are reconstructions and restorations. Very few is left from the original buildings, which is a bit of a shame, but it is still nice to see. Again, if you want to see Hangzhou, I suggest you take 2 full days to see the west lake area properly, maybe even more, because many of the attractions close around 17.00. You also need to be fairly fit as the area is surrounded with hills, and there are some steep stairs to climb!
One interesting little shop on the main peninsula, is part of the seal stone engravers society. A society that was dedicated to, yes, you can guess: engraving seal stones. They use an ancient way of script for seal stones, nowadays known as, again not very surprising: seal script. They have a very interesting collection of seal stones, in all shapes and sizes, but also a lot more that is related to Chinese calligraphy, like brushes, ink stones, ink tablets, etc etc. Note though that they don’t bargain like Old Town. The price on the item is what you get to pay, take it or leave it! If you really want to get something interesting I would suggest to go for it here, as they do have some unique items. Otherwise you can get many seal stones a lot cheaper in Old Town.
If you do have the opportunity, go there during spring, when the lotuses are blossoming. That should give quite a spectacular sight on the lake as there are many fields of lotuses. When I was there, all you could see is the green leaves on stalks of about 2 meters high. Interesting, but not exactly breathtaking.

Gate Shanghai
Gate Shanghai, originally uploaded by ksporry.

Shanghai has several other attractions that are worth going to.
There is the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is a modern shaped TV/Radio Tower of some 400 odd meters tall. You can go up to 360 meters in the futuristic, rocket shaped tower. There are 3 balls you can visit, although I didn’t see any elevators or stairs going to the first ball. The second ball at some 260 meters high is regarded as one of the more interesting points of view, especially considering Shanghai’s haziness. Also it is a lot cheaper than doing the whole thing. I paid the extortionate sum of 100 Yuan to get to the top, which does allow you to visit the second ball as well. It is interesting, but no more than that.
Alternatively you could go to the Jinmao Tower. At 88 stories one of the highest buildings in Asia, which has now been surpassed by Taiwan’s Taipei-101 tower. The Tower is designed with a typical Chinese building architecture in mind. Strangely the Taiwanese kind of copied the style for their Taipei-101, which is now the tallest building in the world. Personally I like the Jinmao tower better than Taipei-101. It has a more interesting design (I will put some photos up later for comparison).
The Jinmao tower is cheaper than the Oriental Pearl Tower at only 70 or 80 Yuan, and it does bring you quite a bit higher than the Oriental Pearl Tower. If you can see the rest of the city remains to be seen though…
When you travel to the Pudong district (e.g. to visit the oriental pearl tower), you could choose to take the pedestrian tunnel. At 30 Yuan it is 15 times as expensive as walking to Henan Road station and taking a 2 Yuan subway, but it is actually quite interesting, and lets face it, 30Yuan is only 2 GBP. Hardly worth a second thought unless your middle name is Scrooge.
I already discussed Old Town with its bazaars. There is more than bazaars though. You can go to the Yuyuan gardens, which again has an entry fee, but is worth the money. It is quite sizable and you spend more time than you would initially expect. The buildings are intriguing and original. A lot of it is restored but it looks nice. Unfortunately when I came, most of the buildings had closed doors. Each building has a small description of what the room represents and what it what it was used for.

Some things are more worth going to in the evening, when it is dark. Like Nanjing road, which is the biggest shopping street in Asia. It actually has a small ‘train’ running along the street! During the day it is no more than most other shopping streets, but at night it looks like the light strip in Las Vegas! Quite impressive I have to admit. Some things are not directly touristy and obvious. At some point I went to visit a friend and her parents. She picked me up and accompanied me to her parents for dinner. Along the way we walked past some rather old building blocks. Smaller houses between the tall flats. Between the ancient rows of houses were tiny little narrow alleys. And they were pitch black! Occasionally you could see a light up in the distance, but generally it was just plain dark. It is amazing people could actually walk through those alleys without stumbling over the rubbish! It was an intriguing sight and I actually felt myself drawn to those ancient alleys between the old houses that surrounded them. Ofcourse wisdom, and my friend as well, told me I better didn’t. In these cases it is wise to have a guide with you. To be honest, I doubt anything would have happened to me if I would have dived into such an alley. Shanghai is really not that criminal.

Hmm, it seems like I have created my longest post so far. SO I better leave it at this. More next time…

No comments: